Math matters — more than ever

Thursday, Nov. 16, 2006

How many times do we adults say to one another, ‘‘I’m just not good at math?”

That may be true for some of us. But it won’t be a good enough answer for our children. Understanding advanced math has become a basic requirement for the new generation of jobs. In fact, you may be shocked at the central role that math now quietly plays in today’s routine jobs and services. Consider:

*In the next 15 years, 3.3 million American jobs will move to East Asia, not because of cheaper labor but because these countries educate their workers in higher math and other essential job skills, according to a study by the American Electronics Association.

*In 62 percent of American jobs over the next 10 years, entry-level workers will need to be proficient in algebra, geometry, data interpretation, probability and statistics, according to a study by the American Diploma Project.

*All high school students need similar levels of math knowledge whether they are headed for college or going directly into the workforce, according to the same study.

*Math is the key skill for designing and running Internet search engines, Wall Street investment systems, computer software code, analysis of consumer and business databases, systems to target audiences for advertising, and countless information management and security companies. In the words of a top researcher for the National Security Agency, ‘‘There has never been a better time to be a mathematician.”

*Today’s biggest rising stars in industry are mathematicians. Top mathematicians commonly start with six-figure salaries and generous stock deals. And graduates who are well-trained in higher mathematics are in great demand generally.

*Math entrepreneurs, who use higher math to design new services in such fields as financial analysis and scientific research, are making a fortune, often selling their companies for hundreds of millions of dollars.

What it all means is that ‘‘not being good at math” is no longer an option for students who want a shot at today’s careers. Your child needs math. Now. As a parent, here is what you can do:

If you are the parent of a high-schooler:

*Make sure your child takes and passes algebra I, geometry and algebra II. These are the gateway courses for the problem-solving skills he or she will need in the career marketplace.

*Even if your child fulfills the math requirements by junior year, insist that he or she take a math class, such as calculus, senior year. What is simply ‘‘required” is often not enough to gain an advantage in the job and college markets.

*Stay on top of your child’s homework. Make sure he or she keeps up with assignments.

If you are the parent of a middle-schooler:

*Be sure your child takes algebra I in middle school if possible. This will enable him or her to go farther with higher-level math in high school.

*Meet often with your child’s teacher, and be sure to discuss how your child is doing in math.

If you are the parent of a elementary-schooler:

*Make math fun. Do puzzles, measure things, count money, and create everyday problems to solve — compare prices and savings in stores, measure the time it takes for different stoplights to change and other situations.

*Consider music lessons, which help mathematical thinking.

*Try not to impart any fear of math to your child.

*Meet regularly with your child’s teacher, and talk about your child’s progress in math and how you can help.

Most importantly, for all students, if your child is struggling with math, get help early. Today, math is more of a must than ever. Your involvement as a parent can help to make the difference. Make sure your child is now getting the math he or she will need later in life.

June Streckfus is executive director of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education, a statewide coalition of more than 100 major employers committed to improving student achievement in the state.